British Woman Loses Bid for Frozen Embryos

A British woman has lost a legal bid to bear children using frozen embryos fertilized by her former partner. Natallie Evans became infertile after cancer treatment, but her ex-fiance refuses permission for her to use the embryos. The European Court of Human Rights refused to overturn earlier decisions.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. A European court has ruled that a British woman cannot use previously frozen embryos to have a child. Thirty-four year old Natalie Evans was left infertile following cancer treatment. And she went to court after her former fiancé withdrew his consent for the fertilized eggs to be used. Evans took her case to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting the British legal process. NPR's Rob Gifford has the story from London.

ROB GIFFORD: In October 2001 Natalie Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Since her treatment would make her infertile, she and her fiancé at the time, Howard Johnston, decided to seek in vitro fertilization treatment. Eleven eggs were produced and fertilized resulting in six embryos being frozen and placed in storage. But the couple then split up and Johnston withdrew his consent for eggs fertilized with his sperm to be implanted in Natalie Evans.

The European Court today, in a majority verdict, refused to overturn earlier decisions against Evans in British courts. After the ruling Natalie Evans expressed her disappointment.

NATALIE EVANS: I had hoped that today would be a day for me to celebrate. However, I'm still as determined as ever to do anything possible to be allowed to try for a child of my own, who's in my stored embryos. Howard may feel it's too late for him to change his mind, but it is not. Howard please think about it.

GIFFORD: Natalie Evans had filed a case claiming that British law breached her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. In the U.K. the law stipulates that consent from both parents is needed at every stage in the process of in vitro fertilization, as well as for the storage and implantation of the fertilized eggs. She said her right to privacy and family life as enshrined in the European Convention, and the embryos right to life were being violated.

To the dismay of pro-life groups, the court in its judgment ruled against Evans' proposal that the embryos had an independent right to life. It also said her right to have children could not override her former fiancé's withdrawal of his consent. Howard Johnston had said he did not want the financial or emotional burden of having a child. Today he expressed his relief at the ruling.

HOWARD JOHNSTON: The key thing for me was just to be able to decide when and if I start a family.

GIFFORD: The panel of seven judges said it had great sympathy with the plight of the applicant since if implantation did not take place, she would be deprived of the ability to give birth to her own child. It's a sympathy that many have expressed about the case, but Michael Wilkes, the chair of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association said the law in the U.K. is clear and the European Court had upheld that.

MICHAEL WILKES: The law has been drawn up in this way to make absolutely sure that at every stage in the process both partners are fully involved and fully committed. In other words, a tradeoff if you like, between the right to have this treatment is to express a duty, both partners, a duty to the child that's going to be created.

GIFFORD: Natalie Evans says she will appeal the ruling to the Grand Jury of the European Court, but that will likely be her final chance. Under U.K. law the embryos should be destroyed after five years. That is this October. The European Court agreed today to delay that until after the result of Evans' appeal. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.